Private Equity in Healthcare: Transforming the Landscape

Understanding Private Equity

Private equity (PE) involves investment firms acquiring equity ownership in companies, often using a combination of their own funds and borrowed capital. The primary goal of private equity is to enhance the value of the acquired businesses and eventually sell them for a profit. Unlike public investments, PE deals typically involve non-public companies and can offer more significant influence over management and operations.

Private Equity vs. Venture Capital

Private equity and venture capital (VC) are often mentioned together but serve distinct purposes. Venture capitalists invest in early-stage companies with high growth potential, usually providing capital in exchange for equity. These investments are typically in startups and focus on innovative or tech-driven sectors. In contrast, private equity investments usually target more mature companies that already generate revenue and have a stable business model. PE investments are larger and can involve significant restructuring or strategic redirection of the target company.

The Trend of Physician-Owned Practices Selling to Private Equity Firms

In recent years, there has been a notable trend of physician-owned practices selling to private equity firms. This shift is driven by various factors, including the increasing complexity of healthcare regulations, the need for sophisticated technology, and the pressures of financial management. For many physicians, selling to a PE firm can provide immediate financial rewards and relieve administrative burdens.

Legal Implications and Limitations

These transactions are not without legal implications. The healthcare sector is heavily regulated, and any change in ownership must comply with federal and state laws, including the Stark Law and Anti-Kickback Statute, which aim to prevent conflicts of interest and ensure that financial incentives do not compromise patient care. Moreover, these deals often include non-compete clauses and other restrictions that can limit the physicians’ future professional activities.

Impact on Patient Care

The impact on patient care is a subject of ongoing debate. Proponents argue that PE-backed practices benefit from improved management efficiency, access to advanced technology, and better resources, leading to enhanced patient care. However, critics worry that the focus on profitability can lead to cost-cutting measures, reduced staff, and a shift towards higher-margin procedures, potentially compromising the quality of care.

Personal Experience with Venture Capital in Healthcare Practices

Based on my personal experience, the journey of practices bought by venture capitalists often comes with mixed outcomes, many of which can be quite challenging. In one instance, despite multiple promises of providing support for standard administrative operations, these assurances never materialized, and the practice experienced a revolving door of ownership changes, causing significant instability. In another scenario, the deal was structured as a Management Services Organization (MSO), where providers technically did not sell their practice but were under the control of the MSO, which managed all the income. Unfortunately, the providers remained liable for all clinical actions, leading to frustration and confusion. In a third case, the MSO purchased the physical assets while the providers retained control over the clinical portion of the business. However, this arrangement ended abruptly when the MSO decided to terminate the providers, leading to a sudden and disruptive end to their practice. These cases illustrate the potential pitfalls and less-than-ideal outcomes for providers who enter into such agreements. Conversely, there have been instances where everything proceeded smoothly, yet the providers struggled to adapt to the new operational structure and chose to retire earlier than planned. These experiences highlight the importance of thoroughly evaluating all aspects of such deals and preparing for possible challenges.

From Family Practices to Corporate Healthcare

One significant cultural shift is the move from traditional family practices to a more corporate healthcare environment. Family practices, often run by local physicians, emphasize personal relationships and community-based care. In contrast, PE-owned practices may prioritize standardized procedures and efficiency metrics over individualized care, potentially eroding the close doctor-patient relationships that are a hallmark of traditional family practices.

Pros and Cons of Working with Private Equity


  • Financial Stability: Immediate financial gains and reduced financial risk for physicians.
  • Operational Efficiency: Access to better management practices and technology.
  • Scalability: Ability to expand services and geographic reach quickly.


  • Profit Pressure: Emphasis on profitability can lead to cost-cutting measures.
  • Loss of Autonomy: Physicians may have less control over practice decisions.
  • Quality of Care: Potential for compromised patient care due to profit-driven motives.

Common Models Used by Private Equity

Private equity firms typically employ a few common models in healthcare:

  • Buy-and-Build: Acquiring a large platform practice and then purchasing smaller practices to expand.
  • Roll-Up: Consolidating smaller practices into a larger entity to increase efficiency and market power.
  • Management Services Organizations (MSOs): Providing non-clinical services to healthcare providers, allowing physicians to focus on patient care.

Regulatory Scrutiny and Patient Harm

The trend of private equity in healthcare has attracted regulatory attention. Government officials announced a joint investigation into the role of private equity and “corporate profiteering” in healthcare during an online workshop hosted by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The goal of this public inquiry is to gather information to guide agencies’ understanding of the impact of private equity acquisitions in healthcare so they can better leverage enforcement tools to address issues. FTC Chair Lina Khan noted concerns that transactions may generate profits for firms at the expense of patients’ health, workers’ safety, and affordable healthcare.

Economist Eileen Appelbaum described how private equity firms often buy healthcare companies with a minimal upfront investment and substantial debt, which then becomes the responsibility of the purchased facility. This debt can drive poor quality care due to staffing reductions and less focus on patient safety. Additionally, private equity firms may engage in practices like selling real estate owned by the healthcare facilities or forcing them to take on debt to pay dividends, often resulting in financial instability and potential bankruptcy for the facilities.

Studies have shown significant patient harm associated with private equity ownership in healthcare. For example, private equity-owned nursing homes have been linked to 20,000 additional deaths over a 12-year period, and admissions to private equity hospitals have shown a 25% greater risk of hospital-acquired conditions. Clinicians have also reported firsthand experiences of reduced staffing and unsafe patient care conditions following private equity takeovers.

Pearls of Wisdom

  • Stay Informed: Physicians and healthcare providers should stay informed about the potential benefits and risks of selling to private equity.
  • Legal Due Diligence: Ensure compliance with all relevant laws and regulations to avoid legal pitfalls.
  • Focus on Patient Care: Maintain a strong commitment to patient care, even in a profit-driven environment.
  • Evaluate the Long-Term Impact: Consider the long-term implications of PE ownership on practice autonomy and patient relationships.
  • Seek Expert Advice: Engage with legal, financial, and healthcare consultants to navigate the complexities of private equity transactions.

In conclusion, private equity is reshaping the healthcare landscape, offering both opportunities and challenges. By understanding the dynamics of these transactions and prioritizing patient care, healthcare providers can navigate this evolving environment effectively.

Note: Some of the information in this post came from Medpage Today: “Probe Into Private Equity in Healthcare Launched”